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Prerogatives to Depart from Equality1


Should egalitarian justice be qualified by an agent-relative prerogative to act on a preference for—and thereby in a manner that gives rise to or preserves a greater than equal share of the goods of life for—oneself, one's family, loved ones, or friends as compared with strangers? Although many would reply that the answer to this question must be ‘yes’, I shall argue here that the case for such a prerogative to depart from equality is much less far-reaching than one might think. I have in mind a prerogative to depart from a specific form of equality: namely, equality of opportunity for such advantages as resources or welfare. I mean to refer to the strong form of equal opportunity elaborated and defended by Richard Arneson and G. A. Cohen whereby, roughly speaking, two people have equal opportunity for advantage if they face the same choices and will end up at the same level of advantage if they make the same choices.

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This is a revised version of the text of a lecture for the 2004—05 Royal Institute of Philosophy Lecture Series on political philosophy which was delivered on 12 November 2004. Versions of this lecture were also delivered at University College Cork, the Oxford Political Thought conference, and the University of Reading. I thank the members of these audiences for their comments. I also thank G. A. Cohen, Magda Egoumenides, Simon Hampson, Alon Harel, Annabelle Lever, Michael G. F. Martin, Véronique Munoz-Dardé, Thomas Porter, Hillel Steiner, Peter Vallentyne, Andrew Williams, and Jonathan Wolff for their comments.

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Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements
  • ISSN: 1358-2461
  • EISSN: 1755-3555
  • URL: /core/journals/royal-institute-of-philosophy-supplements
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